Monday, March 22, 2010

Obama To Sign Health Bill, Take It On The Road

President Barack Obama is preparing to sign a transformative health care bill ushering in near-universal medical coverage - and then hit the road to sell it to a reluctant public.

Obama will travel to Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, the White House said, as he now turns to seeing a companion bill through the Senate and selling the health care overhaul's benefits on behalf of House members who cast risky votes. It is most likely that he will sign the bill on Tuesday, but plans are not yet final, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an as-yet-unannounced strategy.

House Democrats voted 219-212 late Sunday to send the landmark legislation to Obama. The 10-year, $938 billion bill would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce deficits and ban insurance company practices such as charging more to women and denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

NY Police Agree Driver Error Caused Prius Crash

Police who investigated the crash of a Toyota Prius in the New York suburbs said Monday they agreed with federal regulators that driver error caused it. The investigation found that the driver, housekeeper Gloria Rosel, never braked before she crashed into a wall, Harrison police Capt. Anthony Marraccini said. She was not seriously injured.

"The vehicle accelerator in this case was depressed 100 percent at the time of collision, and there was absolutely no indication of any brake application," Marraccini said. "She believes she depressed the brake, but that just simply isn't the case here," he said. There was no intent to deceive, Marraccini said, and Rosel won't be charged.

The finding concurs with that of U.S. safety regulators, who said last week that the car's computers showed the throttle was open and the brakes not applied. Rosel, 56, was driving the 2005 Prius on March 9 when she reported that it sped up on its own down a driveway and slammed into a stone wall despite her braking.

Marraccini said the car's computers showed that the Prius' top speed down the driveway was 35 mph and it was going 27 mph when it hit the wall.

Toyota spokesman Wade Hoyt said the investigation showed that the company's cars are safe, and that "if you step on the brake they'll stop, even if the accelerator is glued to the floor."

The accident set off an intense investigation because Toyota has recalled more than 8 million cars since the fall over gas pedals that could become stuck or be held down by floor mats.

The Prius in the Harrison crash had not been recalled for sticky accelerators. However, it had been repaired for the floor mat problem. Technicians from Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as the police department's own consultants, examined the wreck outside police headquarters in Harrison on Wednesday. Marraccini said the NHTSA also interviewed the driver.

On Thursday, the NHTSA said information from the car's computer systems indicated that there was no application of the brakes and that the throttle was fully open. It did not elaborate. The Prius is equipped with an event data recorder, or "black box," designed to record the state of the car at the moment of an impact.

The New York crash happened the day after a driver in San Diego reported that the gas pedal got stuck on his 2008 Prius, resulting in a 94 mph ride on a Southern California freeway. Toyota said its tests showed the car's gas pedal, backup safety system and electronics were working fine. Some consumer groups and safety experts have said the problems could be caused by faulty electronic throttles. Toyota has said it has found no evidence of problems with its electronics.

Kristen Tabar, an electronics general manager with Toyota's technical center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in a video clip posted by the company that the automaker has eight labs in Japan that it uses to bombard vehicles with electronic interference. She said Toyota ensures that "every system in the vehicle operates properly under those conditions."

Mayor Falls For Census Scam

The city of Harrisburg has opened a Census Help Office at City Hall. Mayor Linda Thompson said it is important to get the right information because she has already been the victim of a census scam, Lancaster television station WGAL reported.

Thompson said that she received and filled out a census form a few weeks ago. She did not realize it was a fake form until her legitimate census form arrived last week.

"I was just eager to be a leader in the city that fills it out and (thought) the census said they wouldn't ask for Social Security numbers," Thompson said. "They even asked for my address and where I worked and my job title. So, there you have it - buyer beware."

Thompson said she is now taking steps to prevent identity theft.

DUI Suspect Had 7 Kids In Car, Police Say

Police said officers arrested a woman driving seven children while under the influence of alcohol, WPTV-TV in Plattsburgh, Vt., reported. Williston police arrested Mary O'Neil at about 6:45 p.m. Friday in the parking lot of a Best Buy.

Police said officers stopped O'Neil after a 911 caller reported that the driver forced oncoming cars to pull over. According to police, a Breathalyzer indicated O'Neil had a blood-alcohol level of 0.379. Police said any more alcohol would have likely killed her.

Jobs Lost As Farmers Move From Cotton To Corn

Jobs are being lost and rural economies are suffering as farmers in some parts of the U.S. switch from growing cotton to corn. Economists estimate for every three jobs needed to produce cotton, only one is needed to grow corn or soybeans. They said it's difficult to say exactly how many jobs have been lost, but the shift is real.

Most cotton jobs are in post-production, and that's where losses have been greatest. The National Cotton Ginners Association said the number of gins in the U.S. has dropped from 835 in 2006 to an estimated 700. Yazoo Planters Gin Co., near Yazoo City, Miss., has gone from ginning as many as 20 farmers' cotton to four.

Man Wearing G-String, Mask Attacks Woman

Police said a man wearing only G-string underwear and a mask attacked a woman outside her home, WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H., reported. Police said the man attacked the woman outside at about 2 a.m. but she was able to get away unharmed.

Police K-9 units were called to the scene but were not able to find the man.

Study: Seaweed May Help Fight Obesity

Adding seaweed fiber to bread may help people lose weight, according to researchers from Newcastle University. They said in a news release that the additive could reduce the amount of fat people absorb by more than 75 percent.

They said alginate, which is found in sea kelp, stops the body from absorbing fat better than most anti-obesity treatments currently available over the counter. The finding came after testing more than 60 fibers in an artificial digestive system.

They hope to study the substance in people next, and said that initial taste tests were encouraging. Alginates are already commonly used in small amounts as thickeners and stabilizers.

More People Go Online While Watching TV

The amount of time people spend on the computer while watching TV is going up sharply.

The Nielsen Co. said Monday that people who multitask this way spent an average of three and a half hours doing so in December. That's up sharply from the two hours, 29 minutes that Nielsen reported only six months earlier.

The percentage of TV viewers who do this isn't going up that fast. That increased by 57 percent to 59 percent during the same period. But those who are doing it spend much more time at it.

Television executives have pointed to this trend to help explain why big events like the Oscars, Grammys and pro football playoffs have been doing so well in the ratings -- people watching and making comments to their friends through social Web sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Recent Earthquakes Updated - USGS

Time Magnitude Location
1 hour ago 5.9 Luzon, Philippines Map

The White House; AP; NYPD; Toyota; WGAL-TV Lancaster, PA; WPTV-TV, Plattsburgh, VT; The Wall Street Journal; National Cotton Ginners Association; WMUR-TV, Manchester, NH; Newcastle University; The A. C. Nielsen Co.

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